THE government has been widely censured for allowing pharmaceutical companies to increase prices of 94 life-saving drugs by up to 260pc a few days ago. The criticism isn’t without justification. A report in this newspaper has quoted some patients as saying that they’ve either reduced their daily dose of medicines prescribed by their physicians or have been forced to discontinue the treatment altogether as prices shoot up, even though the government has yet to notify the new rates. Could anything be more disturbing than to see people stop treatment of serious ailments, even if it means serious health complications for them and difficulties for their families? Some medical practitioners have gone so far as to accuse the government of giving in to the blackmailing tactics of the pharmaceutical industry. Others have questioned the wisdom of allowing such a hefty increase, claiming that the price of raw material has come down substantially. Still others want the government to look into allegations of transfer pricing by the industry, which lets it move significant parts of its earnings to principals as cost of raw material.
The government’s claim that it has allowed the price increase under the ‘hardship category’ as per the Drugs Pricing Policy of 2018 to end the shortages of several medicines in the market (which forces patients to buy expensive imported alternatives) cannot be disputed. It is also a fact that drug manufacturing is a business for investors; if they don’t earn good returns on their investment they will pull their money out and invest in some other business. However, it is the job of the policymakers to find a way to strike a balance between the interests of the pharmaceutical industry and those in need of medication. One solution could be to help the industry bring down its cost of doing business to hold down drug prices. The other could be opening up the market for generic drugs in order to provide cheaper but good-quality medicines to those from the low- and middle-income segments.
Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2020